Essential Gear Every Trail Dog Needs

Essential Gear

It may come as a surprise to some of you, but every thru-hiking dog needs a gear list just like their thru-hiking human. And also like their human, while their list may be somewhat unique there are a few essential items every list should include.

**Important Note & Disclaimer: Panda was sponsored by Backcountry K9 in 2016 for our thru-hike when they were still a gear company, so the majority of our gear was sent to us for free. However, everything I have included in this post met our backpacking needs and I will 100% use all of it again even if I have to buy a replacement of something.**

Those are:

  1. A collar– This is an easily-overlooked piece of gear. Most people probably take it for granted and think, “Well my dog already has a collar so I’ll just use that.” But I’ll tell you right now it’s totally worth investing in a waterproof, non-absorbent collar like the Ruffwear Headwater Dog Collar, which also happens to be stink-proof. And, at the time of this writing, on sale for 40% off!
  2. A leash- You can get away with a standard leash, but I recommend one that can be waist-worn or secured around a tree or post, and you should absolutely, 100% avoid a retractable leash! Panda and I use the Flat Out Multi-Purpose Dog Leash from Ruffwear and it met all of our needs on trail and in town.
  3. A backpack- Choosing the correct backpack is crucial to your success in taking a long trip with your favorite furry friend.  Several companies that make canine packs have popped up in the last few years, but I’m still sold on Ruffwear’s Palisades Pack. It has removable saddlebags, two internal collapsible bottles, easy-access stash pockets, coated zippers, high-visibility reflective trim, external gear loops, aluminum V-ring leash attachment, and a padded handle. All of that makes it easy to detach the saddlebags and give your dog a rest without taking off the entire harness, makes it easier to help your dog up rocky cliff faces without stable footing, and makes it easy to access anything your dog needs during the day while you’re hiking. They are also incredibly durable and I still use Panda’s pack from our A.T. hike going on three years later.
  4. A dog bowl- An ultralight, collapsible dog bowl works best. I use the Ruffwear Bivy Bowl. I’m sure you could use a regular dog bowl if you like, it would just be heavier and bulkier in your dog’s pack.
  5. Heartworm prevention- I include this in a dog’s gear list just like I include a medical kit in my own. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, which you will encounter in droves while hiking on certain trails. Therefore, you need heartworm protection with you for every month you are hiking, even if you’re only out for a week or two in certain months. Trust me, you don’t want to ruin your dog’s health or spend the $800+ treatment costs to get rid of heartworms once your dog has them. “Heartworm preventives come in different forms, including monthly chewable pills and topical “spot on” medications, as well as an injectable medication that is given every 6 months. Heartworm preventives are available only by prescription from veterinarians (American Heartworm Society, 2018).” Every person should consult with their veterinarian and decide what’s best for you and your dog.
  6. Flea and Tick Protection- Also like the heartworm prevention, these would fall under your dog’s medical needs. Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks, is a big problem on the East Coast and you don’t want you or your dog to get it. You can get an all-in-one preventative, which is what I like to do personally to avoid keeping up with multiple pills or treatments. There are multiple oral and topical preventatives available and you should consult your veterinarian as to what is best for you and your dog.

And there you have it, the essentials of your trail-dog gear kit.

Is That Really All?

No, that is not all the gear your trail dog will ever need. It is however what I believe to be the “essentials.”

There are other pieces of gear you can and should use on different hikes based on a large number of other factors. For instance, what time of year are you hiking? Will there be snow? Is your dog big and fluffy or does he have short fur and have a hard time staying warm? Does he hate sleeping on the ground? Is he small enough to sleep on your sleeping bag or does he need his own sleeping bag?

I purposefully didn’t include other gear like jackets and booties and dog beds in this post because all of those are going to vary widely for individual dogs, and you should base your dog’s gear on what you know about your dog, not on what I may or may not know about your dog’s breed.

For example, it was highly recommended that I take dog boots for Panda on our thru-hike so I did, but she was accustomed to long hikes and never needed them, even when she scraped the pad on one foot. A dog with tender feet may have needed them on the tough, rocky terrain in Pennsylvania or in the Whites.

Panda is also a malamute mix with long, thick fur and a double coat. When we began our thru-hike in March snow was in the forecast so I took an insulated dog jacket. She only used it a handful of times when it was below 30 degrees and then it became irrelevant. However, another thru-hiking dog named Huck was a Vizsla and he needed a jacket almost the entire trip because he had super short fur.

Outside of the 6 essentials I listed above, your dog’s gear list should be made based on what you know about your dog. You should know your dog really well before you take a long backpacking or hiking trip with them and determine what they need on the trail the same way you determine what you need for the trip. Sometimes that’s from trial-and-error on smaller trips and sometimes it’s just common sense.

Go read my guest post on Backcountry K9’s website to see my thoughts and reflections on doing a thru-hike with Panda! And drop me a comment to let me know what gear you may include in your dog’s essential gear list that I don’t!

**Everything in this post is my personal opinion and NOT in any, way, shape, or form associated with a professional or dog-care provider outside of the information I quoted and cited from the American Heartworm Society.**

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